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Thursday, December 22, 2011

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

My Week With Marilyn is a charming film that covers the period when Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) was in the United Kingdom filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir. Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).

Written by Adrian Hodges and adapted from the memoir by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year old aristocrat just graduated from Oxford and determined to get into the film business in the summer of 1956, Colin describes how he worked as a lowly go-fer assistant to Olivier on the film and got to personally know Marilyn during one week.

When the film opens during a re-enactment of one of Marilyn's famous musical numbers you can see that padding was necessary to give Michelle's slight figure the voluptuous Monroe curves. The makeup isn't convincing either, but that's just at the beginning of the film.

As it progresses, we see that the aging Olivier is hoping that producing and starring in the film with a hot actress like Marilyn will re-vitalize his career. Marilyn has her own goals since she's recently married to famed playwright Arthur Miller and desperately wants to be accepted as an artistic actress, not just a movie star. By producing and starring in the film, Marilyn hopes that her association with the British theater elite will elevate her status.

The story reveals Marilyn as nervous and unsure, bonded at the hip to acting coach Paula Strasberg, and genuinely surprised when Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) tells her "None of the rest of us know how to act for the camera - but, you do."

Marilyn is depressed, drugged, tardy and sometimes inconsolable. However, she shows brilliance when filming and her transgressions are forgiven. Having taken a shine to you Colin, she goes sightseeing and skinny dipping with him, share confidences with him at her rented home, and invites him to cuddle in her bed.

What we see is that the real Marilyn played the part of the public, movie star Marilyn. In the film at least, we see that Private Marilyn turned public Marilyn on and off at will.

In the end, Marilyn goes home to America and Colin Clark has a long, distinguished career.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

WAR HORSE

By D.E.Levine

Steven Spielberg has done it again. Lately Spielberg has primarily been an Executive Producer on his films. But War Horse shows he hasn't lost his touch as a director.

The movie is an epic tale set against the background of rural England (starting in Devon)and Europe during the First World War.

In the beginning, a rural farm boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine) tames and trains Joey, a horse bought by his father. Despite the fact that the horse is not a plow or farm horse, Albert gets Joey to wear a harness and clear and plow a large field.
When rains destroy the flourishing crops planted on that field, Albert's father cannot pay his debts and is forced to sell Joey to the British army.

Amid devastating war scenes, the film follows Joey as he meets and influences the lives of British cavalry, German soldiers and a French farmer and his granddaughter.

A heart wrenching emotional climax is reached during the war in No Man's Land and viewers are on the edge of their seats as Joey is headed to be put down due to injuries and starvation.

In a story book ending fate intervenes and Joey meets a different end. The emotional feelings are palpable.

While Spielberg yet again shows us the tragedy and waste of war, the photography is startling, as is his ability to direct scenes of huge numbers of actors and animals in battle.

Above all, the film emphasizes the human spirit and the devotion between an human and an animal. There is some dichotomy in the continual survival, against all odds, of Joey, when tens of thousands of men died in battle.

However, the warmth of the relationships both in family and military, as well as the overwhelming "feel good" emotion over the love of an animal, surfaces as the driving force.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

RA-ONE

By D.E.Levine

Out of Bollywood comes a clever and thoroughly enjoyable science fiction/thriller/comedy. In India they've been talking about this film for a long time, since it besides being an extravagant film it also has India's biggest film star.

The story centers on Shekhar Subramanium, a video game designer who lives in London and who is thought by his son, Pratik, to be very "uncool."

Shekjhar designs a game, Ra-One with a villain of the same name, who is almost invincible. Pratik, who plays video games under the name "Lucifer" actually defeats Ra-One on a certain level, causing Ra-One to become so angry that he escapes from the machine and goes in search of Lucifer.

When Shekhar claims that he is Lucifer, in an attempt to save his son's life, Ra-One kills him. Ra-One doesn't stop there. Learning that he didn't kill Lucifer, he assumes the identity of Shekhar's colleague, Akashi (Tom Wu) and goes in search of Paitak.

Pratik goes to his father's office where he and Jenny (Shashana Goswami) decide that the G-One (Good-One) has to be released from the game to bsttle Ra-One.
leave London chased by Ra-One to go to India. They are followed and attacked by Ra-One. After many near misses, the Good-One assumes the identity of Shekhar and battles Ra-One.

The trio, thinking Ra-One defeated, go to India, but the resurrected Ra-One follows them in order to kill both Pratik and the Good-One.

There's lots of action as well as some really great Bollywood musical song and dance numbers.

We know happens but we won't spoil your fun by telling you. Buy s ticket and enjoy an exciting, fun-filled movie

Monday, December 12, 2011

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY

By D.E.Levine

As a great fan of John Le Carre's novel, this film is a reiteration of a story already told successfully in a successful TV mini series, starring Alec Guiness, back in the 20th century.

Based at the height of the Cold War in the mid-20th century, MI6 secretly brings back George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a discredited and disgraced British spy.

Convinced that there's a mole inside, the British Secret Intelligence (known as "The Circus") thinks they've been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviet Union.

Despite a stellar cast of British actors, including Colin Firth, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney and Mark Strong, Oldman, with his poker-faced portrayal of Smiley, dominates the film.
spoil
In his quiet, precise manner, Smiley must determine which of his former colleagues has been working for the Soviets against them as MI6 tries to win the Cold War. But, Smiley cannot tell anyone except one or two chaps that he trusts to work with him, what he's doing.

Forced out with his boss "Control" (John Hurt) when an unauthorized sting goes bad, Smiley is brought in on the QT because of lingering suspicions of a double agent which originated with Control.

This is a thriller of a different nature. It's very quiet, very controlled, very British.

The outcome is a surprise in several ways. It's true to the book and even if you know the story you'll enjoy the way it plays out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO (COLUMBIA PICTURES VERSION)

By D.E.Levine

I liked the original Swedish version of this film and couldn't understand why a remake was in the works so soon after the Swedish release.

The story in this Columbia Pictures version is fairly true to Stieg Larson's blockbuster but subtitles have been eliminated since Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara speak English instead of Swedish.

Even if you know the story, there is tension and suspense throughout the film, so the viewer's attention is held and there are still some surprises. David Fincher has produced a film that will appeal to the public because it has a stellar and recognizable Hollywood cast including Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stelan Skarsgard and Joely Richardson.

The film has more Hollywood dazzle than the Swedish version. Craig is Mikael Bloomqvist, a journalist ruined by the expose of a corrupt industrialist. But unlike the original where he faced jail, there's no urgency here.

Hired by Henrik Vanger the patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family where everyone is at the other's throat, and the head of a rapidly shrinking industrial empire. To the family Bloomqvist is working on a family history. But the actual reason is Henrik wants to know which one of his family members killed a favorite granddaughter in the 1960s and he wants Bloomqvist to re-open the case and investigate.

In need of expert assistance, Bloomqvist hires a punk researcher/hacker, a very disturbed young woman who lives outside the law, is covered with tattoos and body piercings and steals data by whatever electronic means necessary. A ward of the state, she has to contend with a creepy, blackmailing probation officer and knows Bloomqvist's most hidden secrets since she investigated him prior to his hiring.

It's a good thriller and very entertaining. People who missed the Swedish version when it was in theaters will definitely enjoy this and probably won't know the difference as the changes made in the film will obviously be incorporated into the next two films of the trilogy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THE IRON LADY

By D.E.Levine

Meryl Streep does an amazing job of turning herself into Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female prime minister of The United Kingdom, earned herself the name of "The Iron Lady."

With strong convictions regarding balancing the budget, international relations and a variety of other areas, Thatcher took her country from a depressed economy to a flourishing one, survived IRA terrorist bombings and successfully fought to retain control of the Falkland Islands, but not without controversy and dissension.

This film presents an intimate portrait of Thatcher, showing how despite a loving, patient and supportive husband Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) her marriage suffered because of her dedication to her political career.

For those who are old enough to remember Mrs. Thatcher or who watch the numerous news clips available, it is uncanny at how Streep has managed to transform herself into the character. It's more than the excellent makeup provided. Streep has captured the walk, the nuances of Thatcher's voice, the tilt of her head and all the small familiar actions that made her distinctive.

The Iron Lady seems almost like a documentary at times as it shows very clearly the making of a "winner". Her political advisers taught Thatcher how to dress, how to color and cut her hair, how to modulate and use her shrill voice - in short, they taught her how to present herself. Remember, some of the most successful leaders like Presidents Reagan and Kennedy had acting experience and/or lessons. Even Hitler studied with an acting teacher before he turned his unacceptable speeches into mesmerizing oration.

Thatcher had the brains and the gumption to lead the country. Her advisers and counselors groomed Margaret Thatcher to be a presentable candidate and in doing so they created her image. But, she created her leadership style, which was strong and stubborn and would eventually lead to her resignation. However, she served for 12 years before being forced out.

The sad part is that we're shown her decline in later years when her husband dies and she continues to converse with him, and when Alzheimer sets in robbing her of her memory and her freedom.

Streep's portrayal can only be classified as amazing and may cause various organizations to take notice of this role as one more exceptional than those in her past and deserving of awards.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL

By D.E.Levine

This is a film that doesn't disappoint. Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back and he's looking better than ever.

When you see this, definitely see it in Imax, because even though this is the best Mission Impossible film since the first, Imax makes it even better.

This time, the Impossible Mission Force is implicated in a global terrorist bombing and is literally shut down. Of course, the audience knows that IMF has been framed, but how will they prove it?

With Ghost Protocol initiated, Hunt and his new rogue team must work off the grid to clear the IMF name.

Ghost Protocol is definitely the most action-packed of the MI films. With Tom Cruise willing to hang off the sides of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, (he's still doing his own stunts at age 50), there are unbelievable stunts and action.

While Simon Pegg, as the computer expert, adds to the film, Jeremy Renner is the inquisitive member, questioning Hunt about the outcome of their exploits. One has to wonder whether, with the IMF franchise being so lucrative, and with Cruise already entering his 50s, could Renner be on the verge of being groomed for an ongoing and larger role?

Of course, in the opening scenes, Ethan is in a Russian prison and another IMF agent, working with a technical expert has to break him out. Teaming up with Hunt and his own team, the composite group travel where needed to follow leads and set the record straight.

While they may be on their own, the IMF team has lots of trendy gadgets with which to work.

In short, this is a film for pure entertainment. You don't have to think deep thoughts or figure out anything complex. Just enjoy it and have fun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

By D.E.Levine

For a man who dedicated most of his career to New York films, Woody Allen has been doing a lot of traveling lately.

Over the past few years he's set his films in London, Spain and now Paris. This film, his 41st, is really a love story to Paris, starting with a travelogue of all the major sights.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter from Hollywood, goes on a holiday to Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents

Frankly, this is a couple who doesn't have very much in common. He harbors the desire to write a great novel and live in Paris. She wants to live in an upper class suburb in the USA.

While Gil, awe-struck, follows Hemingway's trail of pubs and bistros, Inez goes shopping. At night Gil goes out by himself, gets lost and sits down on some church steps and as the bell rings midnight a Peugeot filled with revelers pulls up.

The revelers include Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and by sticking with them Gil is plunged into the Jazz Age and meets a great many of the famous artists of the time like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali and Brunel for example.

Gil is so intrigued with the artists and entranced by the Jazz Age that he keeps going back. Is it all in his imagination or has he really time traveled?

Gil is appealing and sincere, and his relationships with the artists cause him to change the course of his life in and unexpected manner.

Overall, this is just a wonderful, entertaining, feel good film with magnificent cinematography.

Monday, November 7, 2011

THE DESCENDANTS

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Director Alexander Payne brings us a drama/comedy that centers on Matt King (George Clooney) a lawyer, descendant of Hawaiian royalty and an indifferent father of two daughters.

When his wife Elizabeth is injured in a boating accident off Waikiki and lays comatose and dying in the hospital, Matt is forced to re-examine his life.

As he struggles to re-connect with his 10 and 17-year old daughters and assume the active role of father, Matt has to face the reality of his wife's infidelity and also decide whether to sell the land given to his family by Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. His relatives have given him the responsibility, even as different cousins politic for their favorite buyer and deal.

While they say actors should never act with pets or children, Clooney, who is single and has no children, has stepped outside his comfort zone and is totally believable in the role of father and deceived husband.

His co-stars are Shailene Woodle (playing a rebellious 17-year old Alexandra), Amara Miller (playing 10-year old Scottie) and Nick Krause as Alexandra's teenage family friend, with Beau Bridges as Matt's cousin and Judy Greer as the wife of his wife's lover.

It's angry and surly Alexandra who drops the bombshell that her mother was cheating on Matt. Her anger over the affair and the fact that her father is completely unaware explains much of her behavior. Much of the movie is devoted to Matt, an inept stalker if ever there was one, trying to locate the "other man."

There are several plots, and Payne, who also contributed to writing the script, lets things unwind in a leisurely fashion instead of rushing from one plot to the next. The grief and anger on the part of the main characters, and the emotional reactions are complex but completely believable in this outstanding ensemble film.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

THE ARTIST

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Before they had movies with sound or talkies, they had silent movies, and that's exactly what director Michel Hazanavicious has produced in his superb film, The Artist.

Centering on a silent screen star, George Valentine (Jean Dujardin), in 1926, the actor doesn't speak at all. We see him in out takes from his silent films, dancing and singing in personal appearances and rehearsals, but we never hear him or any of the actors, relying on intertitles to let us know what's going on.

Unfortunately, George doesn't transition to talkies. As others rise in the public's popularity, George is reduced to ruin, since he can't adapt. As a result he loses everything.

But this is a Hollywood movie and there has to be a happy ending. Earlier in the film Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a starlet wannabe accidentally bumps into George in a fateful collision of the up-and-coming future colliding with the popular present and soon to be past. George is kind to Peppy and helps her initially getting her work as an extra and then boosting her career. As a result, she has an unflagging interest in him and winds up coming to the rescue.

The film is a loving tribute to many of the existing film classics, and writer/director Hazanavicious borrows from some well known scenes.

The costumes are exquisite and although the film was initially shot by cinematographer Guillame Schiffman in color, it was converted to black and white monochrome in the
laboratory. Without spoken words, the emphasis is on the acting and the continuous score by Ludovic Bourse.

The intertitles are in English and although the stars are French, there are a number of well-known American actors in key roles.

Perhaps because it's such a loving tribute to silent films, The Artist has been on a continual swell of popularity. However, it's doubtful this means silent films are making a comeback.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

CARNAGE

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Roman Polanski directed and co-wrote with playwright Yasmina Reza, this film about two couples who meet to discuss a "civilized" resolution to a fight between their two sons on a New York City playground.

Two couples, the Cowans and the Longstreets, meet at the Longstreets apartment to discuss resolution after a fight between their two sons where Cowans son broke one of the Longstreet boy's teeth.

Although the meeting starts off as civilized, it quickly disintegrates. The protagonist's father Alan Cowan (Chrisoph Waltz) is a lawyer for a pharmaceutical company who is always on his cell phone. He's actually the only character who realizes how senseless the meeting is while the other three individuals spend an enormous amount of time and energy senselessly trying to place blame.

While Penelope Longstreet(Jodie Foster) demands an apology on Longstreet turf, Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet)starts stress-related vomiting, Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) tries to wash and dry Penelope's art books and catalogues with a hair dryer, and the situation rapidly disintegrates.

While the dispute may have been different, didn't Edward Albee do this years ago in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?"

In the end, the couples get on each others' nerves and also on the nerves of the audience. I was interested in what Roman Polanski did with the play, but it's not a great, or even an interesting film.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PUSS IN BOOTS

By D.E.Levine

Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas), that endearing Spanish feline with the killer Spanish accent, who we know from his relationship with Shrek,became a hero when he teamed up with Kitty Southpaws (Selma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianikis) and set off with them to save their town.

In his high-heeled Musketeer boots, prancing along with absolutely no modesty as to his superior traits and talents, Puss is flat out hilarious.

We already know and love Puss from the Shrek franchise so this 3D prequel just endears him to us further.

When Puss learns that Jack (Billy Bob Thorton) and Jill (Amy Sederis) have magic beans in their possession and that the beans will lead to a castle and a goose that lays the golden eggs, Puss develops a craving for the eggs.

It's when he decides to steal the beans that Puss meet the street smart cat burglar, Kitty Southpaws and Humpty Alexander Dumpty.

All in all this is a happy film with Puss purring seductively, dancing a flamboyant flamingo and courting Kitty.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

RIO

By D.E.

This is definitely a fun animated film. Living a reclusive life in Moose Lake, Minnesota, a McCaw named Blu lives with his human friend Linda. Blu doesn't know how to fly and since living with Linda doesn't necessitate flying, he doesn't learn.

Blu and Linda think he's the last of his kind until they hear about another McCaw, Jewel, who lives in Rio De Janeiro. So Blu and Linda set out to visit Rio and contact Jewel.

The film is filled with vibrant color and music, just like Rio itself.

When Blu and Jewel are kidnapped by some less than expert animal smugglers, they must work together, with the help of some street smart city birds, to escape their kidnappers. Once free, the birds must thwart the kidnappers and Blu must find the courage to learn to fly.

In the end Blu must reunite with Linda, his best friend.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Starring Elisabeth Olsen, the younger sister of the famous Olsen sisters, this is a chilling pyschological thriller about a young woman who joins and then escapes from a cult.

Through flashbacks we see how Martha became involved with the cult, what took place on their rural farm, sexual interactions and criminal activities that took place and how she finally left and contacted her married sister (Sarah Paulson) and her brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy).

Unfortunately, re-assimilating into a "normal" life isn't as simple as one would think and Martha becomes more and more obsessed with the thought that the cult is coming after her to wreak vengeance and make certain she doesn't discuss what she's seen or taken part in while with the cult.

Having fallen under the "spell" of a charismatic cult leader, fallen prey to being drugged and undergoing various forms of deprivation.

Writer-director Sean Durkin builds the suspense, moving back and forth between the awkward and increasingly uncomfortable stay of Martha with her sister and the earlier initiation into the cult.

Unable to tell the truth about her absence, Martha becomes increasingly paranoid, and with Durkin's script and direction terror mounts. Is it real or is it imagined?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A SEPARATION

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Asghar Fahardi, the Iranian writer and director of this film, has accomplished a somewhat amazing feat just by getting this film made.

Iran is not known for leniency and this film is a pretty astute and realistic examination of things which one might think the government would frown upon discussing.

The protagonist is Nader (Payman Maodi), whose father suffers from Alzheimers. His marriage of many years is strained and his wife wants to leave him. When he hires a woman to care for his father, she accuses him of things that he never did or meant to imply.

Basically, Nader's life as he knows it, and his family, are coming apart. Around every corner is more bad news. Nader appears stoic but he's deeply troubled by the way his life is falling apart.

What Fahardi is most successful at showing is the small ordinary things in Iranian life - in other words Iranians are not so different from the rest of the world. That sameness that the actors demonstrate may well account for the film's popularity.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ANONYMOUS

By D.E.Levine

Since Shakespeare's work first appeared people have been trying to prove or disprove whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays,poems and sonnets.

Anonymous puts for the idea the Edware de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the actual author.

The idea is that disgrace to the royal line would happen if de Vere (Rhys Ifans) put his own name on the work. To avoid this he makes a deal with Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), an established but struggling playwright. However, as things turn out, Will Shakespeare winds up getting an Ed accepting the credit and de Vere allows himself to be blackmailed into continuing the arrangement.

Queen Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave as the younger and older versions) gets involved because she loves plays and admires Shakespeare's. She also has a rather flamboyant sex life and has, throughout her life, relationships with various men who impregnate her. According to the film, the virgin queen had several illegitimate children, including one with de Vere. But according to the film, she also had a relationship with de Vere's biological father that resulted in Edward de Vere being born (which would make Elizabeth his mother as well as his lover).

Roland Emmerich directs this film which has more twists, turns and scheming than a modern thriller. The Queen's Puritan adviser William Cecil (David Twelis), who is also de Vere's foster father and father-in-law, plans a takeover with his hunchback son Robert (Robert Hogg). They are brilliantly perverse, devious and wicked.

Emmerich piles conspiracy theory on conspiracy theory, all taken from actual historical theory and speculation.

The theory and film are interesting, with beautiful costumes, scenery and acting. Whether or not society will accept any of the speculation remains to be seen. After all, Emmerich didn't create these theories. He's just reporting what existed and exists, in an interesting fashion.

Friday, May 27, 2011

TROLLHUNTERS

A TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Perhaps it's because my Norwegian friends aren't overtly funny that I wasn't expecting a hilarious film. But, I was wrong. This is as black comedy if ever there was one and it will keep you laughing even after you leave the theater.

The hilarious tale centers around a trio of students who discover that the Norwegian government has been involved in a conspiracy to cover up the existence of of giant Trolls.

The students always thought Trolls were simply part of Norwegian folklore but once they learn that they're for real the students set out to capture some.

The premise behind the film is that the students, who set out to document trolls with handheld cameras, have mysteriously disappeared. There are so many trolls that Norway has a secret government agency, the Troll Security Service - TSS, to eliminate the trolls and anyone who stumbles upon the secret.

I'm sure the trolls are supposed to be frightening, and then latest CGI techniques have been used to create them, but they're absolutely hilarious. Most trolls look like overstuffed dolls and are kind of cuddly rather than scary.

We learn that trolls come in breeds and that the breeds all look different. Basically, since they can't stand exposure to UV light, Hans, a trollhunter from the TSS, runs around turning on large sun lamps and annihilating trolls.

The government covers up troll attacks by claiming they're due to bears and proceeds to dump bear carcases and make paw prints wherever an attack has taken place.

Of course, while I may not find the trolls scary, Hans certainly does and has to contend with all types of difficult situations created by the trolls. This film probably falls best into the category Dramedy combining drama/adventure with comedy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE

A TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Director Dori Berntein once again gives us an exceptional documentary.

Carol Channing's fame as a performer is known around the globe. An exceptional looking woman with comedic timing and an easily identifiable singing voice, Channing has been a Broadway mainstay for over 60 years.

Now 91, there's nothing ordinary about Channing, who delights in childlike glee over life, love and her incredible show business career.

Reading her biography is interesting but hearing Channing tell her stories of life on the stage is funny, just like she is and evidently has always been. Bernstein has created a love letter of sorts, but it only skims the surface.

Even with out the artificial platinum wig and false eyelashes we never really get to know Carol herself. She tells delightful anecdotes, infuses humor into almost everything, and is now considered a grand old dame of the theater - but the Carol we see is very much the actress she invented.

The film is delightful to watch, upbeat in every way, but we never really get to know Carol Channing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

THE KITE

A NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Uttarayan is the largest kite festival in India. A three-day festival held in the city of Ahmedaabad that attracts people from all over the country.

While not a typical Bollywood film with costumed dance numbers erupting throughout, this film the story of a man who returns home for the festival, with his daughter.

The film is crowded with characters, just as India is crowded with people. While allowing the audience to see and experience the flavor of the city and the excitement of the festival.

However, the film drags and seems much longer than necessary. There seem to be too many characters within the main character's family and friends. Perhaps because this film concentrates on relationships rather than building to a major climax, there is a slackening off well before the end.

To those viewer who have been to India, they will relate to the realism off the real life scenes. To viewers who have never been to India, they will enjoy the realistic slice of life of the streets and family.

Monday, April 18, 2011

THE GUARD

A TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

This is a very interesting Irish film that pairs Brendan Gleason with Don Cheadle. It starts out as a mystery-thriller-drama, but is filled with humorous jokes.

When we meet Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Gleason) is anything but an alert law enforcement agent. In fact, he's sleeping on the job and only wakes up when a speeding car crashes killing the driver Arriving at the scene he promptly steals and drops the corpse's acid.

While the scenery in County Galway is scenic and peaceful, the area is actually ripe with murder and drug smuggling. Boyle is anything but a typical policeman, since he lives his life as he pleases and that includes hiring prostitutes for his recreational activities.

Off-duty Boyle wears bright almost dandyish outfits and lives and frequents places decorated with bold colors.

When FBI agent Wendell Pierce (Cheadle) arrives with hopes of intercepting a large drug shipment, Boyle makes racist remarks that are offensive t, o the black agent.

Despite the blunders and offensiveness, the two agents manage to form a team and go after the drug smugglers and even solve a murder, retrieving a missing corpse.

It's an interesting combination to see the rogue Boyle and the strait-laced Pierce play off against each other while juggling their crime-solving duties. How they accomplish their goals is hilariously funny and while this may be a small film it's one well worth seeing.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

JANIE JONES

A TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

By D.E.Levine

Abagail Breslin, who was the adorable star of Little Miss Sunshine, is a 15-year old teenager now and starring in a sweet film about a teenage girl and her dad going in the indie-rock world.

While the story may have been told before, Janie Jones (Abagail Breslin) appears to be perfectly cast. When Janie's mother Mary Anne Jones (Elizabeth Shue, a drug addict, takes her 13-year old daughter to see singer-songwriter Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola), she announces that Brand is the girl's father.

Brand doesn't remember Ms. Jones and disputes parenting the girl, but Mary Ann disappears leaving a message she'll return for her daughter after she "gets clean" and leaves the teenager behind.

It's obvious that Brand's ego is bigger than his fame and that his career is declining. Mr. Nivola is a fairly decent singer and carries the part reasonably well.

After discovering that his girlfriend Iris (Brittany Snow) who's also his backup singer has cheated on him with the lead guitarist, Brand gets into a brawl that winds up on YouTube. His band deserts him and Brand decides to continue touring as a solo act.

The club circuit is sleazy. The father-daughter duo don't really click until Janie demonstrates musical ability and her father incorporates her into his act.

When Brand lands in jail, the underage Janie illegally drives his car into town and pawns his guitar for bail money.

Overall this is a sweet film that showcases Ms. Breslin and Mr. Nivola well. It loses momentum towards the second half, but is enjoyable along the way.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CONTAGION

By D.E.Levine

Contagion is a highly controlled film about a frightening out-of-control pandemic event.

Beth Emhoff, in Hong Kong on business, has a delicious dinner at a prestigious restaurant and then during a layover in Chicago, sleeps with an old boyfriend. Beth returns home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) in Minneapolis, becomes ill suddenly, and dies.

However,while in Hong Kong, Beth came into contact with business associates, restaurant patrons and staff, other guests at her hotel and in a casino, and of course on the plane. Naturally, since she doesn't know she's contagious and hasn't experienced any symptoms yet, she infects everyone with whom she comes into contact.

Beth's death is only the beginning. A flu-like epidemic spreads with unbelievable rapidity although we don't learn how Beth became infected until the end of the film.

As the plague spreads rapidly, so does the drama and tension. The Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), takes charge of tracking and fighting the spread of the disease.

Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), a medical intelligence specialist, is sent to the Minneapolis hot spot to uncover the cause while back in a CDC lab Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) struggles to isolate the virus and develop a serum/antidote.

Audiences can relate to the shock and panic since the country and world lived through the HIV, Ebola and swine-flu epidemics. We see that as panic spreads, civil society disappears and riots and looting take place.

Under Steven Soderbergh's direction and Stephen Mirrione's editing, things filmed physical conviction but without exaggeration.

There's a wild card in all of this, a Julian Assange type blogger named Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) who insists that the government is ignoring a homeopathic cure colluding with a large pharmaceutical company on a pseudo drug. As Krumwiede blogs about his distrust he contributes to spreading the panic and unrest, which can almost be categorized as part of the illness.

There are some other interesting characters such as a doctor working for the World Health Organization (Marion Cotillard) and a renegade epidemiologist (Elliot Gould), but generally, the main characters and the world's "saviors" are government employees.

There is obviously a message in this post 911 anniversary film regarding that the people entrusted with the ability and know how to solve the problem are all government scientists that rely on facts, not religious beliefs.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I SAW THE DEVIL

By D.E.Levine

Director: Ji-woon Kim
Writer: Hoon-jung Park
Cast: Byung-hun Lee, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Jeon, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim et al.
Producer: Hyun-woo Kim
Executive Producers: Hun-you Jeong and Greg Moom
Co-executive Producers: Kee-young Cheong, Hyung-cho II, Yeong-chin Kang, Byung-ki Kim, Kil-soo Kim, Jae-sik Moon, Bryan Song and Youngjoo Suh
Co-producer: Seong-weon Jo
Associate Producers: Jae-young Kim and Jung-hwa Kim
Cast: Min-ski Choi,
Original Music: Mowg
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Country of Origin: South Korea
Language: with English subtitles
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror

People walked out of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival screening because they thought I Saw the Devil was too brutal and horrifying, but it's actually a well-done revenge film, made in true Korean style.

The legendary actor Min-ski Choi, who played Oldboy, is cast as a ruthless, demented, serial killer.

After raping and murdering the daughter of the chief of police, the killer continues to rape and murder without remorse.

However, in addition to being the daughter of the chief of police, the young girl he murdered at the opening of the film, was engaged to a secret service agent who vows vengeance and starts tracking the serial killer.

Thus begins a tale of cat and mouse with the secret agent stalking the serial killer and the serial killer choosing victims that are explicitly hurtful to the secret agent.

The tension keeps building as the action keeps barreling along. Whenever it seems things can't get any more horrifying and crazier, they do.

The performances are really superb and the intensity builds. I did think that at a certain point the film could have been cut and that it went on longer than necessary, but it was filled with unexpected twists and turns and the suspense kept building.

It's true some people don't feel a film of this type particularly appealing, but others find it curiously satisfying

Monday, February 21, 2011

KILL THE IRISHMAN

By D.E.Levine

Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Writer: Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters (screenplay); Rick Porrello (book "To Kill the Irishman")
Cast: Val Kilmer, Linda Cardellini, Christopher Walken, Laura Ramsey, Ray Stevenson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bob Gunton, Paul Sorvino, Robert Davi, et al.
Producers: Al Corley, Eugene Musso, Tommy Reid and Bart Rosenblatt
Executive Producers: Jonathan Dana, Peter Miller and Tara Reid
Co-producer: John Leonetti, Kim Olsen, George Perez, Tom Reid Jr., Jeff Spilman and Jeff Stern
Original Music: Patrick Cassidy
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Country of Origin:
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Action, Adventure, Mystery, Suspense

I learned a lot of history from this film. For instance, I never knew there was a huge turf war between the Italian mafia and the Irish mobsters in Cleveland, Ohio during the summer of 1976.

History, upon which this film is based, shows that during the summer of 1976 36 bombs were detonated in Cleveland.

The story is about Greene, an Irish touch working on the docks and his rise to enforcer for the local mob.

Turning on his benefactor, a loan shark, and allying himself with a local gangster, Greene stops following mafia orders and pursues his own path to power.

It seems that everyone tried to kill Greene and he kept surviving their assassination attempts. His fearlessness in taking on the mafia eventually led to the mafia's collapse throughout the United States.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

PEEP WORLD

By D.E.Levine

Director: Barry W. Blaustein
Writer: Peter Himmelstein
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverstein, Rainn Wilson, Ben Schwartz, Judy Greer, Kate Mara, Taraji P. Henson, Ron Rifkin, Lesley Anne Warren et al.
Producers: Keith Calder, Felipe Marino and Joe Neurauter
Co-producer: Paul O. Davis
Original Music: Jeff Cardoni
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy

Peep World centers around the 70th birthday of a family patriarch when his four children come together with their respective spouses and significant others to throw their father a birthday dinner.

Also at the dinner is the ex-wife and her second husband, the young girlfriend of the father, and the publicist of the youngest son.

While the family is highly dysfunctional in many ways, in the forefront is the unseemly success of the youngest son because of his tell-all book entitled Peep World.

Based on the most intimate family secrets, Peep World is a tremendous success and has thrown the family members into total chaos.

Add to that the fact that the family daughter has to daily look out at the Peep World movie set, located directly across the street from her apartment. To add pain to insult, the actress playing the daughter in the movie, is the current girlfriend and future wife of the patriarchal father.

What a conundrum! In a low key way, the film is extremely funny and the casting is stellar.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

THE RITE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Writer: Michael Petroni and Matt Baglio (book and story)
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Claran Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastini, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Arianna Veronesi et al.
Producers: Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson
Executive Producer: Robert Bernacchi
Co-producers: Christy Fletcher and Mark Tuohy
Associate Producer: Christopher Almerico
Line Producer (Italy): Gian Paola Viani
Original Music: Alex Heffes
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Horro, Thriller

After seeing Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, one has high expectations about his performance when he's in a thriller or drama.

In this film Hopkins plays a priest who conducts and teaches exorcism. To make the story we have to believe that satanic possession exists and exorcism works to cast Satan out.

Based on the actual experiences of Father Gary Thomas, a California priest who was assigned by his bishop to study exorcism at the Vatican, in the film the priest is from Chicago (Father Michael).

Seeking to leave the priesthood before taking his final vows (since he entered the priesthood to pay for his education), Father Michael is shocked to learn that he will owe over $100,000 in student loans if he does indeed leave the priesthood.

Assigned to Rome he dabbles in a variety of priestly studies and activities until he is advised to spend some time with an experienced exorcist.

Accompanying the elder priest to his various exorcisms, they are followed by a woman journalist, but there is no hint of romantic involvement between either of the men and the woman.

Instead, the film is eerily beautiful with cinematographic images made in Hungary that are eerily ancient and scary. While not as horrifying as The Exorcist and not as good as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite is interesting and different than most of the gory horror films being made today, but towards the end it does become campy.

While The Rite is interesting, to fully enjoy it the viewer must buy into the concept that Satan inhabits people and can be cast out via exorcism.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

HALL PASS

By D.E.Levine

Directors: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrlly
Writers: Pete Jones, Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett and Bobby Farrelly (screenplay); Pete Jones (story)
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenson, Stephan Merchant, Larry Joe Campbell, Bruce Thomas, Tyler Hoechlin, Derek Waters, Alexandro Daddario, Rob Moran, Lauren Bowles et al.
Producers: Mark Charpentier, Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, J.B.Rogers, Bradley Thomas and Charles B. Wessler
Executive Producers: Marc S. Fischer
Co-producers: Kris Meyer and John Rickard
Original Music: Matthew F. Leonetti
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy

What starts out as a movie about two wives giving their husbands freedom to cheat for a week turns out to be a reaffirmation of marriage.

The two wives are tsking the advice of a friend (Joy Behar) who's a successful psychiatrist, that letting her husband pursue other women strengthened her marriage, the two wives decide to give their husbands carte blanche.

Of course, the joke is that two very married men are probably too out of shape for extramarital sex, especially when they're given the okay to have it.

Hall Pass is funny and raunchy, but it's possible to relate to it totally. While it's somewhat crude, it's the type of crudeness that our society accepts.

Two middle-aged men and their friends are facing "middle age" and while they're good at ogling women other than their wives when engaged in their marriage, they aren't very successful at extramarital affairs when their wives give them permission.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

THE CHAPERONE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Stephen Herek
Writer: S.J.Roth
Cast: Paul Levesque, Kevin Corrigan, Jose Zuniga, Kevin Rankin, Enrico Colantoni, Israel Broussard, Jake Austin Walker, Ashley Taylor, Cullen Chaffin, Darren O'Hare, Nick Gomez, Annabeth Gish, Ariel Winter et al.
Producer: Michael Pavone
Executive Producers: David Calloway
Co-producers: Nancy Hirami and Suzanne Lyons
Line Producer: Todd Lewis
Original Music: Jim Johnston
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Family

This film is another World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) venture into another form of entertainment. It stars one of the WWE's top athletes.

Paul Levesque has already made a name for himself as Tiple H, the number one WWE athlete, and he has also successfully ventured into film and television.

Definitely a feel good movie with an uplifting story, the story centers around Ray Bradstone who used to be the best wheel man in the robbery business.

Just released from jail, Ray has sworn he's going to go straight and rebuild the relationships with his daughter and ex-wife that were destroyed when he went to jail. He's determined to be a good parent this time around.

Unfortunately, with a record and limited skills Ray can't find honest work so he agrees to go in on a job with his former bank robbery crew.

At the last minute he reconsiders and abandons the thieves to join his daughter's class as a chaperone on a bus trip to New Orleans. Since he's taken the bank heist money with him on the bus, the robbery crew follow the bus to New Orleans.

What follows is comedic misadventure as Ray attempts to be a Dad to his daughter, oversee her relationship with a teenage boy, and thwart the bank robbers.

You can take the kids to this film and the entire family will have a good time and enjoy both the story and the acting.

While it may not win any awards, it's good, clean, enjoyable entertainment.